IRAQI DOG BECOMES AN AMERICAN HERO
Thanks to Sergeant Joyce's
loving care, Fluffy quickly flourished.
On the streets
of a city in northern Iraq, a scruffy, bony, homeless German
Shepherd wandered aimlessly. His head and legs were covered with
scars, and he was missing several teeth. His local owners had
beaten the emaciated dog. He needed a place to live, so Kurdish
soldiers brought him to the Third Group, Special Forces, Alpha
Company, Third Battalion.
It was a perfect match -- or so it
seemed. The Special Forces unit had worked with a guard dog in
Afghanistan and needed one again to help prevent surprise attacks.
Some of the soldiers didn't think this frail creature would be
able to do the job, but Sergeant Russell Joyce knew better. He
took over the animal's care, feeding, and training, and gave the
dog a good, American name -- Fluffy.
Under the Sergeant's auspices,
Fluffy soon changed into a quick, bright guard dog, able to tell
the difference between an Iraqi and an American at a sniff. Twice
he was involved in enemy attacks on the base he was trained to
keep safe. "He definitely looked after us," says Sergeant Joyce.
"If any American walked guard, Fluffy would go right along with
the soldier and stand right by him." To the surprise of all the
soldiers, the former stray had truly become a United States war
dog -- and a hero.
But Russell's time in Iraq was
drawing to a close. He was very happy to be going home, but he
immediately thought of Fluffy. Since the dog did not come to the
war zone with the American troops, he was still considered an
Iraqi. Joyce was told if he could not find Fluffy a good, local
home, the dog would have to be killed.
The clock was ticking; the unit
Joyce had arranged to take care of Fluffy temporarily was doing so
unofficially and could not keep him forever. The dog's self-made
handler took swift action. One of the desperate emails Russell
sent found its way to the computer of Ron Aiello, president of the
US War Dogs Association and himself a Vietnam war dog handler. Ron
called the Sergeant.
"What I heard in his voice was
something I heard hundreds of times from former military handlers
from the Vietnam era. They talk about their canines to this day
and the love and devotion we have for them," says Ron. "Russell
had that same emotion about Fluffy."
Aiello wrote to Secretary of Defense
Rumsfeld and set up a page in Fluffy's honor on the US War Dogs
Web site. In no time, Sergeant Joyce received emails from
Fluffy arrives at his new
home in the US with Sergeant Joyce.
people and organizations --
including North Shore Animal League America -- and correspondence
from 32 senators, all asking what they could do to help.
Finally, it was decided -- Fluffy
would become a very unusual exception to a strict military rule.
He would be designated an honorary working military dog with
honorary war dog status. In Washington, Army Deputy Division Chief
Don Stump sliced through some more red tape, and then thirty
high-level military personnel signed off to transfer the brave dog
to the United States. Operation Free Fluffy had come to a
On June 7, Sergeant Russell Joyce,
his wife Caroline, and his daughters Sam and Elise welcomed newly
retired military dog Fluffy to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Since
that day, Fluffy has become a very important member of the family
and friend to all. But it obvious to everyone that Fluffy has a
special love for Sergeant Joyce. And the feeling is mutual. "I
don't label him as a pet," says Russell. "He's my buddy."
Six times each year, North Shore
Animal League America presents the Elisabeth Lewyt Award to a
heroic dog or cat. For his brave actions on the field of battle,
and for Sergeant Russell Joyce's' dedication, Fluffy and his
handler were presented with the League's most recent award at a
reception in Alexandria, VA.
Normally, the shelter that cared for
the four-pawed honoree is also presented with an award. In
Fluffy's case, no shelter was involved. The League decided that
the shelter award should be presented to the US War Dogs
Association, not only in Fluffy's honor but also on behalf of all
the brave and unrecognized dogs who have served with our armed
forces in the past.
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